Annie: Hi Tom. It’s been a couple of years since we met up and chatted about horses.
Tom: Yep, it has, and it feels like a lot has happened since then.
Annie: So I’m really interested in what you have been getting up to with the horse-work. Any huge changes?
Tom: Well, I wouldn’t say ‘huge changes’ but yes, we have moved things along quite a way. I’d say all the important stuff is still in place. Working on softness and feel – you never get to the end of that job. But what we have done is made some dramatic changes to our ridden work.
Annie: Oh that’s interesting – cos you were always known as a trainer who didn’t ride much. Are you riding a lot these days?
Tom: Yeah, I do ride quite a bit. I like going out to check the cows. I’m still not a particularly accomplished rider, but I love the work we are doing now. It all makes so much sense to me. I feel like I have finally found out how to ‘be with the horse’ while I am riding him. That was always such a mystery to me – I felt like I couldn’t find the key to that one. But now I’ve got it.
Annie: Go on then, tell me.
Tom: Well, it’s simple stuff actually. I guess in a sentence I’d say, ‘get your horse in balance with you, in the moment, and you’ve got him, right there with you, and that’s it’.
Annie: That doesn’t mean much to me Tom. Explain what you mean by that?
Tom: Well, for years I heard people saying stuff like ‘get your horse off the forehand’ and I had not the slightest idea what they were on about. I presumed it was something that happens to you when you reach a level of riding skill way beyond what I was ever going to get to. I don’t really believe that anymore. I reckon most people (and horses) can get to it. And that’s what I mean by balance. You and the horse balanced with the weight on all four feet. I remember Mark saying once, when he sits on his horse he feels like he is sitting on a ball that could go anyway. When I heard that I thought, mmm that sounds good – well, that’s what it feels like when your horse is in balance.
The thing is, once you open this door, everything starts to make sense. Suddenly straightness is in sight, suddenly it’s imperative that the horse is not bracing, and suddenly it’s important you are not bracing either. It’s important that your horse even-loads his feet. It’s important that you feel the balance, and you, nor the horse, can feel the balance when there is tenseness or tightness in your or his muscles.
And when you feel that balance, then your horse is with you – almost trapped in the moment. It’s a pretty powerful experience.
Annie: That sounds interesting. How did you get to this then?
Tom: Well, I hate to say it but I read it in a book. But really I had to get to it because I was stuck with some work I was doing with my horse.
Annie: Well, tell me about the work, and then tell me about the book.
Tom: OK I will. The thing that got me to it was that I could turn my horse to the right on a circle no problem, but when I turned her to the left she fell over through her shoulder every single time. Sounds simple to me now, but back then I couldn’t work it out at all. So once I explained to her the cues for the two different ways of turning that she was giving me, I suddenly had both options on both sides. At the same time I had to work hard at getting her ‘front to back’ balance sorted. I had inadvertently taught her to overbend at the poll which gave her no option but to be front end heavy. She was also travelling behind the bit which made communication through the reins very difficult. Now I have her very happy with the bit right there, no pressure from either of us, but the bit is right there, happily sitting in her mouth and she is happy with it there too, so where the bit goes her head goes, so it’s all pretty straightforward really. Maybe I should add there – the theory is pretty straightforward, anyway.
Annie: I’ve never really understood the bit. Everyone seems to talk in very vague ways about it.
Tom: Yes, I couldn’t agree with you more about that. What the heck does all that stuff about ‘seeking the bit’ mean, or ‘accepting the bit’. Why don’t people just say what they mean. I sometimes think it’s because maybe they don’t know.
See, some people want their horse to lean on the bit. Well, if you want balance, leaning on the bit is no good. That’s like providing a fifth leg. We need the horse balanced evenly on all four feet, and what’s more, do you really want the job of holding up your horses head. Then other people want their horse behind the bit – I mean by that that the horse is slightly scared of the bit and shies back off it. I found it impossible to have the communication that I want with my horse like that.
When I came across the idea of having my horse completely happy and comfortable with the bit resting in his mouth, and have him happy to follow it wherever I take it, well, that was some kind of revelation for me. Also, the idea of my horse having a soft mobile relaxed jaw is just great. A horse in balance will hold no tension anywhere, and the starting point is his mouth.
Annie: And the book?
Tom: Ooooh, maybe I won’t tell you that. I’ll just pretend I worked all this stuff out on my own. Oh OK, I’ll tell you, but promise not to tell anyone else OK. Actually I’m happy to tell you everything. I’ve told loads of people and most of them walk off like I hadn’t said anything. The odd one or two think it might be useful, and then the odd one of them tries it out. Then the odd one of them sticks with it, and that is fantastic. See, I look at what everyone else is up too and I just think, actually what we are working towards is pretty good really – riding a horse in freedom, or what the French might call ‘legerite’.
The guys you want to read are Francois Baucher, Phillipe Karl, Anje Beran, and Jean Claude Racinet. There’s probably others, but I’d stick my neck out here and say Baucher got this sorted initially. The guy whose book explains it really clearly, for me anyway, is Philippe Karl – I might go as far to say, and bear in mind I have never met him, he is a quite a clever guy. We basically worked through the parts of his book and DVDs that applied to where we were at with our horses. He explains everything – all about balance – I found the whole book, or at least a lot of the book, absolutely spot on. Obviously the more advanced stuff went straight over my head, but that’s actually what I like about this stuff – it’s useful whatever level of horsemanship you are operating at.
Annie: Wow, you’re quite keen on that aren’t you! So where is all this leading to.
Tom: Well, I wouldn’t know where it might be leading to. For me I just chip away slowly at me and my horse – trying to improve what I’m doing. I’m not ambitious really – I just enjoy the feeling when things are going well between me and my horse.
Annie: Thanks Tom, I’ve enjoyed the interview. Shall we pencil another in for a couple of years time.
Tom: Hahaha, Could do I guess. It’s always fun chatting with you.